Though hybrids have many similarities to conventional cars, they obviously have their differences. The transmission in particular is something many people question when it comes to hybrid cars and most don’t know how they work. Are they automatic? Can they be manual? All good questions that we can answer.
Do hybrids have a clutch? Most hybrids do not have a manual transmission/clutch. While a manual transmission has its place amongst sporty cars or older vehicles, the newer innovations of a hybrid vehicle require an automatic transmission. The transmission in a hybrid vehicle is often different from a typical automatic transmission in a regular vehicle.
This article will look into transmissions in hybrid cars and break down common designs and the purpose behind those designs. Likewise, the benefits of one transmission over the other and the associated costs.
Do Some Hybrid Cars Have A Clutch?
A transmission is the component that transfers energy from the engine and transforms it into energy to spin the wheels. There are many different sizes and brand names of transmission, but there are only 2 types: manual and automatic. Each type has its pros and cons, though automatic transmissions are generally more popular.
Hybrid vehicles utilize a high-voltage electric battery in tandem with the internal combustion engine. The combination of these two systems maximizes fuel economy while lowering emissions. There are different levels of hybrid, from “mild” hybrids to full-on plug-in hybrids. While they use this more environmentally friendly mechanism to get around, they mostly still use an automatic transmission system.
If you have ever been around or driven a manual transmission vehicle, you know about the 3rd pedal. A manual transmission requires the driver to manually disengage the clutch and manually shift the gear selector to operate the vehicle. The clutch pedal is pressed down to disengage the clutch, which is a disc that is constructed of friction material. This disc contacts the flywheel, which is attached to the engine, causing the transmission to spin and the vehicle to move.
Case in point, hybrid vehicles do not use this manual system since an automatic transmission fits much better with the internal combustion engine teamed with electrical components inside. In other words, having an automatic transmission is more efficient with hybrids. If you’d like to learn more about manual hybrids, you can see our other article by clicking here that discusses that topic further.
Why Are Most Hybrids Automatic?
Most hybrid vehicles use automatic transmissions to maximize efficiency. In many cases, the transmission used in a hybrid is what is referred to as a planetary gearset. This involves a center gear that is connected to the combustion engine, typically. There are secondary gears that “orbit” the center gear and a ring gear that encloses everything. The ring gear is typically connected to the electric motor as well as to the axle which turns the wheels. This design is an ingenious way to allow both the combustion engine as well as the electric motor to turn the wheels
A manual transmission is typically connected to the back of the engine but in front of the axle. This linear setup does not always lend itself well to be adapted to an electric motor as well as the combustion engine. That being said, some hybrid vehicle designs simply added the electric motor in between the engine and transmission. For example, Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist does just that.
But aside from design differences, an automatic makes sense for efficiency reasons. An automatic transmission can be tuned to shift at precise moments to maximize fuel economy. Automakers tend not to advertise a vehicle with a manual transmission as the most fuel-efficient because manual transmissions are typically advertised as sporty models. Plus, automatic transmissions are easier to operate for a wider consumer base and therefore are more popular.
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Do Automatic Or Manual Transmissions Get Better Gas Mileage?
As previously mentioned, automatic transmissions are used in hybrids because they can be programmed to shift at precise moments to make the vehicle as fuel efficient as possible. However, theoretically, a person could shift a manual transmission at the same moment and achieve the same economy within a reasonable margin. So technically, both transmissions are equally fuel efficient.
The fuel economy is primarily affected by engine size and driving habits. There are some other small things (like tire pressure and alignment, condition of the vehicle, etc.) that have a small effect, but the difference is not much. Smaller engines require less fuel to operate, so by inherent design, they are better on fuel. The tradeoff is that they also produce less power and are not as suited for every application.
So then the other major factor is driving habits, which is where the automatic vs manual argument comes back in. Since manual transmissions are used in sporty cars, people tend to drive them like sporty cars. In other words, they put the thrill of driving over fuel efficiency. While this is a bit generalized, overall it makes it seem like manuals don’t do as well as automatics.
On the flip side, automatics can be driven in a sporty ride, but they also are suited for cars that your grandma might drive around town (assuming your grandma doesn’t street race). In other words, overall automatics can get better mileage because people are not as likely to hot rod them around.
More On Fuel Mileage
As far as late-models go, the hybrid with the best overall mileage is the 2022 Hyundai Ioniq, which pushes 59 combined mpg. This has a 1.6L engine and a 32 kW electric motor. Second is the 2022 Toyota Prius, which has a 1.8L engine and a 71kW electric motor that helps get a 56 combined mpg. These two are leaders in hybrid technology, both being what is called a parallel hybrid, meaning the engine and motor work together but can also work independently.
Mild hybrids are becoming more popular in larger vehicles, such as pickup trucks and SUVs, which traditionally do not get good fuel mileage but are instead used for power. One of the best new hybrid trucks is the Ford F-150, which takes the most popular pickup truck and boosts the MPG up to 24. This is far better mileage than a non-hybrid truck of any make or model. One of the better hybrid SUVs/crossovers is the Toyota RAV4 hybrid, which comes with a 2.5L engine and 2 electric motors that help this vehicle get up to 40mpgs.
So with smaller sedans and compact cars that can be full hybrids, the maximum level of fuel efficiency can be achieved. Mild hybrids are more used in larger vehicles that still need the power but can also use an MPG boost. In both cases, automatic transmissions are used over manual transmissions to help maintain the highest level of fuel efficiency possible.
Do Manual Hybrids Cost More Than Automatic Hybrids?
It is tricky to compare the prices of manual hybrids and automatic hybrids. Automatic transmissions are overwhelmingly more popular and so there is not a perfect way to compare and contrast models. You would be hard-pressed to find a manual transmission hybrid vehicle built after around 2016.
The Honda CR-Z came in a hybrid powertrain with manual transmission for model years 2011 to 2016. Honda produced the CR-Z to be a sporty version of a hybrid, but the popularity didn’t last. In 2016, the MSRP for a CR-Z was about $21,000, but nowadays they go for about $15,000 depending on condition and location. The 1.5L engine gets about 37 combined mpg, which is decent for a sporty car.
To make this somewhat of a fair comparison, we will look at a 2015 Honda Civic Hybrid. It came with the same 1.5L engine but came in an automatic transmission or continuously variable transmission (CVT). The Civic claimed a 45 combined MPG, which is certainly higher than the CR-Z. The Civic is even just a bit bigger, which is just further evidence of the automatic being more efficient than the manual. The original MSRP started at about $24,000 but now goes for about $13,000 depending on condition and location.
So overall, the original price and the current price are fairly comparable. Where the price difference will be is in fuel cost. Already, both models do much better than non-hybrid options as far as fuel economy, but a 7 mpg difference, in this case, equals about a 20% difference. While this is anecdotal, it illustrates the potential difference between a manual and automatic transmission in a hybrid.
There aren’t many manual transmission hybrid vehicles out there. This is probably mostly because automatic transmissions are more appealing to a wider consumer base. But also an automatic can be tuned to shift at the right time to maintain fuel economy. Manual transmissions are more sporty and as such those vehicles tend to get worse fuel mileage. It is difficult to tell how the purchase price difference shakes out, but the real difference in cost will be the extra savings in fuel by going with an automatic transmission.
Is a Hybrid better than a regular car? Economically speaking, hybrids are better than regular cars. The biggest differences are the miles per gallon since a hybrid will have about ten or more miles per gallon than a normal car. For the most part, hybrids and regular cars are similar in speed and interior with differences in means of propulsion. Click here to learn more.